December last year saw another major change for me, and my now fiancée. Christmas has always been my favourite time of year. The magic and excitement from being a young kid, the snowy weather – although admittedly I think this nostalgia comes largely from TV and the movies, the family time, eating too much food, drinking too much of whatever came to hand, watching crap TV specials, all followed shortly after by my birthday celebrations.
Christmas 2018 was different for many reasons – the key one being that for the first time we decided we were going to spend Christmas Day at our house, just the two of us. I was therefore in charge of all the cooking to ensure we had something edible to overfill on – Christmas Jerk Ham and Beef Brisket, two less traditional Christmas meats, with all the traditional trimmings (60+ pigs in blankets, and a kilo of roast potatoes, parsnips etc… and certainly no Yorkshire puddings, this is Christmas – not a cheap Sunday roast!). Controversial opinions aside, it was a lovely day. No real stress, no drama, no arguments – just a lovely chilled day, and I managed to bypass The Queens speech. Result!
This meant Boxing Day (December 26th to those across the Atlantic) was the start of a long period away from home, travelling the country to see as many family members as we possibly could. Two days slightly South from us with the future in-laws, a couple of days further North with my parents before a surprise trip down South to see my eldest brother for New Year. The first couple of days were great – it was like having Christmas Day all over again… and again! We then set off on our travels North, and a few minutes later encountered the standard holiday traffic. It was to be expected, the roads clog up faster than Fat Bastard from Austin Powers arteries as half the nation visits loved ones. You get the odd impatient driver, and sadly you also get the distracted ones. We got one of each, one in front of us weaving from lane to lane, and one behind us who hadn’t noticed we had stopped in traffic and hit us at 50mph (80km/h). The car seemed to somehow survive with what appeared to be minor damage, although this turned out to be naivety on my part. All parties were shaken up, but no life threatening injuries to report. After a few minutes exchanging details we were all on our way.
The next morning the impact of the accident was starting to become somewhat more apparent. I could barely drag myself out of bed due to back and neck issues, my fiancée also struggling, but to a lesser extent. We tried as best we could to carry on with our plans, seeing family and trying to enjoy our holidays. With the pain not getting any better for me, I saw my GP – initial discussions turned in to repeat visits week after week. Finally they decided that I needed to go to have an MRI scan. Something clearly wasn’t right. I was in constant chronic pain, in my back and down my right leg, losing some feeling around my foot. The scans came back and highlighted the issue. Herniated discs. 3 of them to be precise. 2 minor, 1 major. The issue wasn’t as such the disc herniation, but rather the compression of my spinal canal around the right nerve root caused by the main offending disc. The outcome was an urgent referral to a neurosurgeon.
For those outside the UK, let me preface what I am about to say by stating that our NHS is amazing. Those who work there are superheroes, or at least superhuman. The issue at hand is the disgraceful lack of funding from the government and their complete mismanagement of the service. This is NOT a reflection on individuals or their competence.
I waited a couple of weeks and rang the hospital to chase up the referral. The member of the appointments team I was speaking to was incredibly apologetic as they told me;
“I’m sorry, there are only 110 Consultant Neurosurgeons in the UK, the waiting list is huge and we are behind schedule. It will be around 8 months wait until we can get you in to see someone.”
Needless to say this was not the news we were expecting, and it certainly wasn’t the news we had hoped for. At this point we were almost 2 months post accident – the pain was not easing, despite the raft of pain killers prescribed. There was some light relief for a few moments when they first kicked in, but nothing to allow me to live my life like I had been pre-accident. Some days were better than others, sometimes I could walk around a little without too much pain, but that was as good as it got, and the bad days, well that meant bed or being fully reclined on the sofa for 95% of the day. Those were the days when I just hoped I could manage to sleep and that it would feel a bit better when I woke. Those were also the days when sleeping was an almost impossible task.
Making this situation all the harder to take was the fact I had another 8 fucking months to sit through. Around a week after this, things deteriorated. I had been warned to seek emergency medical attention should certain things happen. One of which was, and I don’t know how else to put this, if I lost sensation when wiping my arse. The pain ramped up, and then this numbing/loss of sensation happened. I went to A&E and explained my situation – they pulled up my medical records and took me to be assessed. Following the standard near 4 hour wait, a Junior Doctor called me to the full examination. What was to happen next was to leave a rather permanent mental scar…
Given the numbness around my arse crack, they needed to check for a medical condition known as Cauda Equina. This test had 2 parts;
1) What I can only describe as a plastic toothpick is used – one dull end and one sharp end, very sharp – the Doctor will stab you with one of the ends, like a game of Russian Roulette, only the gun was a small sharp stick, and instead of using your head, it’s your ring piece. My job was to shout, “DULL” or “SHARP” at the correct moment. A simple game, but not one I particularly enjoyed playing, and one that given my situation I was atrocious at. It turns out I missed 4 of the stabs completely, and got a couple more wrong. I can however confirm that my outer bum cheeks still have perfect sensation…
2) This second part was certainly not a game. The Doctor went to get a male colleague for legal reasons, and returned. Whenever you are told a colleague is needed for such reasons, it’s never going to be a good outcome, is it? Out of the corner of my eye I saw the rubber glove emerge.
“Now I need to do one last test. I am going to need to test the sensation just inside. I’m going to have to insert my finger in your rectum”
Fantastic. Just what I wanted to hear. She asked if I was ok to continue, I responded in the affirmative, although naturally somewhat hesitantly. The sachet of lube was applied to her finger, which by this point appeared as big as Peter Shilton’s . I was told to turn back on to my side and bring my knees as far towards my chest as I could, then away she went. No messing around.
“I need you to clench”
“Where?”, I reluctantly asked,
“Where my finger is”, came the response,
“So my lungs?”… silence. Apart from the ever increasing chuckling coming from my fiancée sat in the corner.
Examination over. Finger test passed. Bum hole tender. Pride dented. I was moved to the Clinical Decisions Unit. The on-call neurosurgeon had been consulted and he wanted me in overnight to have subsequent MRI scans. The results from which were largely the same as previously, but in slightly more detail. I now had it confirmed by the experts – surgery was needed, but I still had to wait for my official consultation to rubber stamp this. That meant still near enough 8 long and painful months.
After much deliberation over the next few weeks, we came up with a new plan of action. We decided to pay for a private consultation – at a cost of £300 this was not cheap, but the potential benefits were huge. My GP, her medical secretary and the junior neurosurgeon had all told me this would make no difference, that I would still have to wait the same amount of time. Regardless, we were at breaking point, so we took the gamble, and man it paid off. Two weeks after this initial private consultation I was seeing the same neurosurgeon in his NHS clinic. Surgery still wasn’t exactly imminent, but it had moved 7 months closer. Given the chronic pain I was suffering from, a finger up the poop chute to cut 7 months off the wait was starting to seem like good value.